Creativity amid Crisis: Legal Pathways for Venezuelan Migrants in Latin America
As more than 3 million Venezuelans have fled a rapidly collapsing economy, severe food and medical shortages, and political strife, neighboring countries—the primary recipients of these migrants—have responded with creativity and pragmatism. This policy brief explores how governments in South America, Central America, and Mexico have navigated decisions about whether and how to facilitate their entry and residence. It also examines challenges on the horizon as few Venezuelans will be able to return home any time soon.
Across Latin America, national legal frameworks are generally open to migration, but few immigration systems have been built to manage movement on this scale and at this pace. For example, while many countries in the region have a broad definition of who is a refugee—criteria many Venezuelans fit—only Mexico has applied it in considering Venezuelans’ asylum cases. Most other Latin American countries have instead opted to use existing visa categories or migration agreements to ensure that many Venezuelans are able to enter legally, and some have run temporary programs to regularize the status of those already in the country.
Looking to the long term, there is a need to decide what will happen when temporary statuses begin to expire. And with the crisis in Venezuela and the emigration it has spurred ongoing, there are projections that as many as 5.4 million Venezuelans may be abroad by the end of 2019. Some governments have taken steps to limit future Venezuelan arrivals, and some receiving communities have expressed frustration at the strain put on local service providers and resources. To avoid widespread backlash and to facilitate the smooth integration of Venezuelans into local communities, policymakers must tackle questions ranging from the provision of permanent status to access to public services and labor markets. Done well, this could be an opportunity to update government processes and strengthen public services in ways that benefit both newcomers and long-term residents.
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II. Entry Document Requirements: A Commitment to Mobility Tested
III. Legal Residence for Venezuelans: A Work in Progress
A. New Legal Permits
B. Regularization Programs
C. Existing Visas
IV. Asylum Systems Overburdened, Not Functioning as Intended
V. Shifting from Temporary to Permanent Measures
VI. Great Creativity in Responses but Real Challenges Ahead